An image of an enemy robot in Atomic Heart screaming at the player.

Atomic Heart Review

Atomic Heart Review

need to know

what is it? Narrative FPS with light RPG elements set in the Russian Westworld

Expect to pay: $59.99 (Steam)

Developer: catfish

Publisher: Focus Entertainment, 4Divinity

Reviewed on: Windows 10, GeForce GTX 1070, 16GB RAM, i7-7700HQ

multiplayer game: No


Four or five hours into Atomic Heart, you walk through a door and the game enters one of many seamless first-person cutscenes. A man holds a gun at you and babbles about blowing a gigantic plant into the kingdom, and your protagonist curses and grumbles gruffly before proceeding to take things and blow it up. You’ll be back soon enough to stuff a bunch of dynamite into a plant, watch as the plant is set on fire by a cigarette while your character calls the plant a “bastard”, then watch the scientist die horribly in the aftermath as his character in the game It’s over.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, a lot of Atomic Hearts will have you grabbing the buy as it veers from giant sets to endless acquisition quests at will, as criticism of Russian exceptionalism juxtaposes a protagonist who calls a robot a “fat manure” and one who seems to have Written with the help of a sworn thesaurus. You’ll stare at the eerie ceramic face of a robot, marvel at how the game’s aesthetic captures its unsettling humanoid sci-fi, and be greeted by a vending machine begging you to “spray your polymer on me.” The cargo plane is disgusting.

It’s one of the weirdest big-budget games I’ve played in a long time, with as many good ideas as bad, almost like it was made without a filter. Everything goes in. The game’s influences are many — Westworld, Fallout, Arkane’s Prey — but looming above them all is BioShock.

Atomic Hearts’ narrative-focused opening feels like a communist version of Colombia, with its sprawling institute of grandeur, a utopian blunder showcasing the best of retro-futuristic Soviet robotics, and one breathtaking spectacle after another. But the impact goes far beyond aesthetics. Combat is built around plasmid equivalents, several of which are taken directly from BioShock, while the first-person talking avatars, radio logs, and companion narrative styles are straight out of the Irrational script. Sometimes Atomic Heart almost pulls it off.

one two punch

I don’t mind Atom Heart duplicating BioShock’s shock plasmid. But it’s driving me to no end because it feels underpowered.

Atomic Heart benefits from the tried and tested properties of these technologies, but it also benefits from the very famous and compelling FPS of 16 years ago.

BioShock starts you off with a wrench and an electric shock attack called an electro bolt, while Atomic Heart does more or less the same thing, but with an axe. The difference is that Atomic Heart’s shock feels…well, like it’s just tickling. Combat has pretty standard basics (melee weapons, pistols, shotguns, grenade launchers), but is nuanced with some great individual twists, like the snappy pistol that you can upgrade to a deadly rechargeable shock beam. You can customize your weapons with various damage types (electric shock damage for robots, bleed damage for organic enemies) and secondary effects such as knockback or AoE. But ultimately no matter how you choose to skin Atomic Hearts’ robot enemies, the combat lacks the weight of its inspiration.

One reason for this is that Atomic Heart is very much about collecting and crafting. Throughout the game, you wear a sentient super-gauntlet, and everything you point at it opens up, and good things fly right at you. Remember the scene in Ghostbusters when the library card starts flying out of the drawer? In Atomic Heart, you keep triggering this effect, and it hasn’t gotten old so far. In fact, I like it so much I think opening the space cabinets alone in Starfield would drive me crazy.

You can similarly loot resources from fallen enemies (their bodies or parts twitch as the shards fly out), and no matter what you’re looting, there’s a lovely glimpse of shiny shards flying towards you: Good results were achieved. This side of it is delightful. But using all that junk to painstakingly craft and upgrade weapons means that most of your gear and attacks are unremarkable until you can grind out enough loot to make them more dynamic.

I don’t mind Atom Heart duplicating the Electrobolt plasmid. But it keeps me going, because it feels underpowered, and as I progress through the upgrade tree, I gradually gain the ability for it to replicate Bioshock powers as standard equipment. In BioShock, Plasmid’s upgrade ladder is only a few steps down, but each level feels more fleshed out, and crucially, the base version itself feels powerful and easy to use. In Atomic Heart, I see no point in building a new tool or weapon if you don’t have the resources to upgrade it multiple times at once.

The game acknowledges this by including a system that refunds all resources spent deconstructing any item. The idea is obviously that players should swap and experiment with playstyles, but the clunky interface and its small icons mean the process isn’t enjoyable, and most enemies don’t encourage or demand that kind of flexibility. The one time I did this was to craft a specific weapon for a nasty boss, it worked, but I didn’t particularly like the weapon and ended up just deconstructing it again after the fight.

(Image source: Mundfish)

fight for the motherland

This is the magnified Atomic Heart. It’s packed with ideas, some of which are great, and some of which are just ballast, which in the end just makes the good stuff weaker. While I’m critical of the upgrade path, combat is generally exciting and tense, and you can achieve effects like lifting six robots into the air, shocking a lot of people with chains, and then smashing them into the ground and Launch a rocket – looks and feels great. Special kudos to the robot animations, where sometimes you hit them with a single shot and they’re knocked back by the impact, but magically flip over and land in their starting position ready to lunge at you.

Several boss fights have incredibly frustrating QTEs. I definitely don’t want to be able to successfully complete a quick QTE within four minutes of a five minute fight or instant failure. A boss named Ivy more or less has to be fought in melee and will grab you with one-shot QTE attacks multiple times in the middle of the fight, which is an incredibly frustrating experience.

This combat system never quite lived up to the heights it promised. It’s like all the ingredients are there, but the cake is still a little bit underbaked. Towards the end of BioShock and its sequels, you feel like an all-powerful terrorist, a genetic monster that swatts the splicer like a fly. In Atomic Heart, your energy levels increase, but never to that point of potency.

(Image source: Mundfish)

In terms of how you actually navigate the place, Atomic Heart offers a memorable and widely used idea: your character can swim through a sticky slime in order to move vertically in a given environment. This strange-looking substance meanders in places, often requiring you to swim at heights and offering some stunning views of these environments. It’s a brilliant idea both mechanically and visually, and can pop up anywhere in the pipeline, letting you get creative.

Though creativity outside of combat is rarely required here. Atomic Heart has an abundance of fetch quests, and then makes the main mistake of the protagonist complaining about constant fetch quests. This is in addition to the talking glove, which I honestly only started calling out after hours of constant barking: it doesn’t really help either, at a couple of points in the game the glove will beep about the polymer or something else Stuff’s Monologue You’re battling a room full of enemies.

Record level FPS production

(Image source: Mundfish)

Atomic Heart comes at a time when its critique of Soviet glory inevitably connects to what Russia is doing in the real world right now.

Atom Heart has been the subject of recent controversy(opens in new tab) against the backdrop of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, with its developer being Russian (albeit based in Cyprus) and its funding sources questioned. Some critics believe that the Atomic Heart represents Russia’s soft power and that buying it is some sort of implicit support for war.

No matter what people say about the money, this game is not a promotional piece. Just as Fallout embraced America’s atomic age to often savagely criticize American capitalism and culture, so here is Russia’s critique of Russian exceptionalism. Opening hours, of course, include sights and spectacle designed to echo the grandeur of Russian communist public events, with thousands of soldiers marching under hammer and sickle, or news reports boasting of some new technological advance made by their comrades.

Then things started to unravel. No one is quite who they seem to be, and in this fictional Russia, all levels of the Soviet bureaucracy are locked in a fratricidal war and destroying each other (naturally comparing itself to the US all the time). You can’t criticize or send stuff like Russia’s political system and nostalgia for the past without including why Russians might have some false fondness for grand parades and the days of the “mighty” Soviet leader – Atomic Hearts all Have these hollow wonders been chipped away to expose the decay beneath.

Atomic Heart comes at a time when its critique of Soviet glory inevitably connects to what Russia is doing in the real world right now. While the game is nostalgic for a time when Russia led the space race and cosmonauts’ names spread across the world, it also has a clear sense of what kind of system that was and how its principles are still used to conquer peoples once under the guise of camaraderie. The names of the great Russians appear again and again in the supporting cast of tributes, as they are used to tell a story that transcends the confines of, ultimately, the broader theme of man-to-man inhumanity. I can’t imagine finishing this game and thinking it will present Russia as some wonderland ruled by wise men for the common good.

This may make Atomic Heart seem like a more impressive narrative achievement than it actually is. There are lofty themes and some memorable story beats here, but also a bunch of ridiculous characters and sets that come and go in the blink of an eye, too much of the narrative is conveyed through your glove in minute-long monologues , while other things are happening. I also can’t get over the fact that one of your recurring friends, Grandma Zika, looks an awful lot like the late Queen of England, with a dirty mouth.

(Image source: Mundfish)

oriental world

Atomic Heart is a surprisingly ambitious, deeply flawed game that at times feels close to greatness. It takes your breath away one minute, then has you fiddling with an annoying puzzle for the next 10 minutes, while the main character swears how annoying the puzzle is. A breath of unbelievable rudeness, followed by a convincing summary of contemporary issues surrounding AI. I have no doubts that it will become some sort of cult classic among FPS players of a certain genre.

Inspiration is always a double-edged sword, as it invites comparisons, and Atomic Heart is heavily inspired by the past. Beneath its shiny exterior, however, is an all-too-human sadness at the future of technological enslavement it envisions. “It would be a nice place if everyone didn’t die,” the protagonist muses at one point, a line that’s almost comically banal. but you…

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.